Tally: You’ve always said that turning 50 and entering menopause are great gifts, Leslie, What do you mean by this?
Let me first be personal,Tally. My 50th birthday was the only birthday in my life that I cared about. It felt to me as though 50 was a watershed—the moment in time where I left behind my previous life in order to create a new life for myself. At that time I was writing my first novel, Ludwig: A Spiritual Thriller, about Beethoven. My eldest son, Branton, gave me an amazing birthday gift. What he did was lay aside two days for me and a dozen other people to celebrate, not just my birthday, but their own passages in their own lives. One of the things he did—he sent six bouquets of my favorite flowers—Oriental lilies—each containing a dozen lilies. Then on the Friday night there was a knock at the door. I opened the front door to find a woman with a violin in her hand. She said “Hello. We are a quartet from the Welsh National Opera, and we have come to play Beethoven’s late quartets for you.” Anyway, I had done a fast to celebrate my life-change at 50, basically. I wasn’t, at that time, entering menopause—it was about a year later that I did.
Tally: Well my own experience of turning 50 was pretty bleak. I was already in the menopause. I felt horrible—tears all the time, hot flushes, insomnia. I felt very stressed by the whole thing. I also lost my waist for a while, which really upset me. So for me, it wasn’t a great experience. How could I make it a bit better?
Leslie: I think you weren’t prepared for it, Tally. Menopause is the most important moment in a woman’s life, for a lot of reasons. My menopause was not easy in the beginning either. Why? Because I had been filled with the same kind of fear and nonsense that the media fills all of us with about menopause. You know the kind of stuff—“Oh my god, what if I have a hot flush when I’m in the boardroom?” and “You’ll get old and dry up if you don’t use HRT!”
THE GIFTS OF MENOPAUSE
Yet somewhere, deep inside, I sensed that the gifts of menopause might be the world’s best kept secret. Entering menopause, we venture through a gateway to enter into a sacred space that is brand new to our lives. We pass through this portal to claim the joy that every woman can feel, but has not yet known.
As we stand at the brink of menopause, it feels as though only darkness lies beyond, lasting for the rest of our lives.
This is true, but not in the way that most women believe. For having myself passed through that doorway into the realms beyond—20 years ago now—I discovered for myself something which women from all cultures have whispered to each other for thousands of years: Menopause is the most freeing passage a woman can make.
The transformation it can bring is rich and endless. Your life can become a journey in which you tap into your own individual power and freedom. For every woman it’s a voyage of discovery which, step by step, wants us to examine and discard misconceptions about ourselves and our lives, to get rid of the fear, and to come face to face with the implications of what this kind of female transformation means.
The call to menopause, which each of us hears, comes in as many different forms as there are women to hear it. But whatever shape it takes, its purpose is the same. It’s asking us to leave behind the comfortable world of our ordinary existence and enter unfamiliar, yet sacred, territory. It’s asking each of us to set out on our own hero’s journey.
Sometimes, this urges us to make an outer journey to a real place, find a new job, or leave behind a marriage that has outlived its usefulness. But for most of us, the journey takes place in our hearts, in our minds, in our spirits. What is wonderful, is this: however it happens, this journey takes a woman out of her ordinary world, and away from all of the outdated, false assumptions we carry about who we are. It takes us out of an experience of fear into one of strength; out of an experience of grief and regret towards the discovery of a new sense of purpose—from despair to hope.
Now it’s time to recognize that all of the things that take place in a woman’s life—like what happened to you, Tally, with your hot flushes and “Oh my god, what’s happening to me?”—are fundamentally a call from your soul. It’s saying to you “You’ve lived a good life until now, you’ve cared for other people, you’ve been responsible and honorable in what you’re doing, but where is the essence of Tally?” Now’s the time for you to learn to live your life from the very core of your being?
Let’s go back to those hot flushes. I have a very extraordinary point of view as far as they’re concerned. If you’re in a boardroom, you have a hot flush and it bothers the men who are with you, that’s their problem, not yours. Most men are scared to death of women in the menopause. They’re not aware of it, but the power that women access within themselves is phenomenal.
On a practical level, hot flushes are easy things to deal with. Herbs like black cohosh—also known as black snakeroot, or sheng ma in Chinese medicine—and sage are great to support the process. Motherwort is absolutely marvelous for the menopause transition because it’s so comforting. When you mix together some of these herbs they work best. What I would never do is get into hormone replacement therapy.
Menopause signals to us that it’s time to stop being the lover, the mother, the good employee—all of the things we grow up thinking we’re supposed to live up to—and just spend time being with yourself, in that inner place, discovering who you really are. When you do this, you find that even the physical experiences of menopause which are supposed to be negative are really a call from your soul, urging you to find out who you are, and begin to live out the fantastic power, energy, and freedom that menopause is offering. These are rewards of the natural menopause, and of the transformation that menopause can bring to a woman’s life if she’s willing to embrace it. Choose to answer the call, and your menopausal passage can become the most exciting hero’s journey anyone ever takes.